Where did that come from? Out of nowhere, having not anticipated anything particularly special, this was one of my favourite serials in a long time. I think the element of surprise is a huge factor – it’s so far removed from the rest of Pertwee’s tenure so far that the Brig et al don’t even get so much as a cameo. Suddenly the TARDIS is fine again (or seemingly so, before a bit of Time Lord-shaped handwaving at the end), and the Third Doctor and Jo are happily swanning around in an alien setting like it’s an everyday thing. Such a great, affectionate dynamic between these two.
It was all about confounding expectations, this story, not least when it comes to the Ice Warriors. It was a bold move to turn previously ruthless killing machines into reformed good guys, and I spent the whole serial expecting it to be a bluff, but no. The expectation of a twist that doesn’t come is sometimes better than an actual twist. The murder-mystery-esque aspect of this was particularly enjoyable – a proper whodunnit to almost rival The Web of Fear.
The success hinges on the quality of the Federation delegates. Unlike the interchangeable ragtag posse from The Daleks’ Master Plan, this lot all had memorable designs and distinctive personalities, with the morally ambiguous Ice Warriors joined by motorised shrunken head Arcturus, and the squeaky-voiced penis-shaped coward Alpha Centauri. It’s a shame that they’re all the same colour, but that’s what you expect from an all-powerful political alliance.
The humanoid Peladonians were all good too, especially the evil priest, here playing the role of what would now be a UKIP supporter in the surprisingly understated EU allegory. Troughton Junior is also good as the slightly wet king, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Jo Grant, or Princess Josephine as she’s known here. The running subplot of her relationship with Peladon (the king who inexplicably shares his name with his planet) could so easily have been an unwelcome distraction, but Manning is such a fine actress, and Jo such a strong character, that it ends up becoming a highlight.
Never more so than in that final scene, where Jo has to make a heart-breaking decision about whether or not to stay behind. This whole serial could so easily have been leading up to her departure – all the signs were there for a classic marrying-a-bloke-you’ve-just-met exit, and there was a definite sense that she’d come of age by being so capable and useful on what was only her second TARDIS trip.
But I’m very glad she’s staying – she’s already one of the best companions ever, and there’s so much more still to come.